Why The Swiss Love The Red Cross

The Red Cross is one of many international organizations founded and/or headquartered in Geneva.  About 250 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have their seat in Geneva.  They include: the United NationsWorld Health OrganizationWorld Trade OrganizationWorld Economic Forum, and Doctors Without Borders.  Switzerland’s international nature and history of neutrality are two reasons for this.

Henri Dunant and a group of Geneva in Geneva founded the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 (near the spot where this photo was taken).  Switzerland’s lack of land and natural resources forced its young men to go abroad as mercenaries to fight Europe’s wars.  Those that returned home were inevitably affected by what they had seen and experienced.    In 1859, Henri Dunant, moved by the human suffering he saw at the Battle of Solferino (in the Second Italian War of Independence) while on a business trip, wrote a book about what he had seen and began advocating for a neutral organization to care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.  His work led to the First Geneva Convention and the establishment of what became the Red Cross.

Henri Dunant won the first ever Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. This bust of Henri Dunant stands at the edge of Geneva’s old town, near Parc des Bastions.  Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, it sits on the spot where Geneva’s guillotine once stood!    Apparently when Geneva was part of France (annexed as département du Léman), all French cities required to have one (Geneva joined the Swiss Confederation in 1815).

Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross/the ICRC is located in Geneva. Although you can see the outside of the building, the museum is closed for repairs until sometime in 2012. Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to see signs of the Red Cross in Geneva.

By the way, there is a reason the Swiss flag below looks like the Red Cross flag.  It is an inversion of the Swiss flag, which is a square with a white cross on a red background.   The First Geneva Convention in 1864, decided that to protect medical staff and facilities,  they needed a clear neutral sign on the battlefield. They chose the exact reverse of the flag of neutral Switzerland.  It was both easily produced and recognizable at a distance because of its contrasting colors.  A Swiss lady living in the US told me that she often tears with pride when she sees the Red Cross flag.  Being Swiss, she is very conscious and proud of what her countrymen started, its Swiss connections and the good that it has done.  Plus, it makes her think of home.

How Not To Eat Like An American

This post doesn’t have anything to do with America’s obesity epidemic. It concerns customary fork and knife handling (aka their utensil etiquette).

Years ago, someone told me that it was easy to tell I was American when I ate.  It wasn’t the massive amount of food I shoveled into my big mouth at an astounding rate. They told me that Americans are easy to spot because they tend to cut their food with the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left hand.  After cutting their food, they set the knife down and switch the fork to their right hand to eat.   They told me that a spy gave himself away as an American by doing this and lost his life.  Knowing that my life could rest on this small habit, I promptly changed to the European method and haven’t looked back (just don’t ask me to right-click with my left hand).

If you want to eat like the Swiss, here are some simple rules:

  • Always eat with knife in one hand and fork in the other (except for fondue).  I have seen people eat open-faced sandwiches with a knife and fork.   Although I found it difficult, I did it too.  When in Rome, right?  I didn’t want to be the bad American with horrible table manners.
  • Under no circumstance are you to switch the fork to your right hand from your left.
  • Note the palms concealing the handles of the utensils in the top photo.  Americans tend to hold their fork like a pen.  If you are a spy, don’t let this detail ruin an otherwise seller performance.
  • Do not put your one or both of your hands in your lap at the dinner table. This even borders on rude. Here, people put forearms and/or elbows on the table when they aren’t eating.  That’s also different for me because on the US elbows on the table is considered rude.
  • Take bread and wipe your plate until it is sparkling clean.  The bread here is very good, so this should not present any difficulties.

If this seems like a lot, you could just avoid the knife and fork altogether and live off fondue or switch to chopsticks.

I Have Spent More On Highway Tolls Than Shopping In France

Yes.  That title, although said, is true.  Let me explain.

While some highways and bridges in the US need of repair, our highway system is pretty extensive.  For the most part, it’s cheap or free.  Switzerland got a late start building their highway system.  They haven’t even finished it yet.  In typical Swiss fashion, it is extraordinarily engineered and well maintained.  Their infrastructure is impressive; our visitors are always amazed by the tunnels.  Some of it is also rigged to blow.    Foreigners who drive through Switzerland complain about having to pay for vignettes, stickers that allow the vehicle to travel on Swiss highways.  You purchase them at the border (or at the post office) for 40 CHF and they are good all year.

Not surprisingly, they do things a bit differently in France.  Here are some of the main differences:

Highways in France require paying tolls.  Lots of them.  I can’t remember exactly how much we spent in tolls heading from Geneva to the south of France and back, but it was well over 100 Euro and probably more like 200 Euro.  It was too painful to tabulate and made Switzerland’s 40 CHF vignette look like a bargain.

Highways in France are privatized.  Therefore, if your car happened to break down on one,  your auto service cannot come get you.  Only certain specified highway-approved tow trucks are allowed to come get your car.  I learned this little tidbit of information the hard way.  In case you were wondering, you must always pay the toll when exiting the highway… even when your car exits on the back of a truck.

Rest areas in France are a little different than in North Carolina.  They serve real food… and wine.  I was busy worrying about my car and chatting with the police, the tow truck driver, etc., so I didn’t partake (not that I had to worry about driving in the near future).  It looked pretty tasty.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Alain Bachellier)

On some highways in France, they have wildlife overpasses (also known as wildlife crossings) for animals to cross the highway.  A practice in habitat conservation, it connects habitats, countering fragmentation.  They also help prevent animals from entering onto the highway, avoiding the resulting accidents.   Below is a photo of one of them.  Sorry I couldn’t take one, but I was busy driving.  It’s handy to avoid the scene above…or worse.

Français : Autoroute A19 – Ouvrage dédié au pa...

Français : Autoroute A19 – Ouvrage dédié au passage de la faune (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St. Emilion, Where They Make The Nectar Of The Gods

 

I don’t want to bore you with stories of another medieval hill town or tales of wine, but on our ladies road trip, we fell in love with Saint-Emilion and I can’t help but wax rhapsodic about it.  It is a gorgeous medieval hill town made of limestone quarried locally.

Around 5,400 hectares of vineyards and many small châteaux surround it.   Saint-Emilion has all the accoutrements you expect in a cute french hill town, inviting squares, cute shops, cobblestones, music wafting through the air, flowers, fountains, light blue shutters that look great against the limestone…you get the idea.  If I haven’t already convinced you to endure one more hill town post, that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site probably won’t sway you either.

Saint-Emilion  has been located on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela since the 11th century.  As a result, many churches, monasteries and hospices were built there.  We’d heard that the bell tower of the St. Emilion Monolithic Church had the best view of the city and it was worth making the climb up the ancient winding stairs to the top of the tower.  We paid a Euro or two each and grabbed the key from the Office of  Tourism across the way.

The bell tower was built between the 12th and 15th centuries.  Not long after that, people started carving their names and dates into it.  I’m a sucker for ancient graffiti.  I loved searching for it and reading it. The best part though was the view. Heaven.

Unfortunately our, ahem, transportation challenges (broken clutch) prevented us from having more time to tour Saint-Emilion.  I’d hoped to see the vast limestone catacombs located under the city that contain Europe’s largest underground church.  They are supposed to be amazing.

Fortunately, we still had time to check out the romanesque church and cloister, shop for antiques (you know I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to poke around this cute store), have a nice meal, listen to some street musicians, stroll the streets and catch one heck of a sunset.  Not too shabby.

 

More Than Just Champagne Wishes And Caviar Dreams Bordeaux’s Chateaux As Investments

More than just “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” wineries today can be investments, part of a portfolio.  This is often the case in Bordeaux.

In Bordeaux, wineries are known as Chateau.  They may only use the grapes from their vineyards to produce wine.  As such, their size limits their production.  The volume produced is further limited by the rules related to the appellation or AOC.  This ceiling on Bordeaux’s production cannot be significantly raised, yet wine has become an increasingly popular beverage around the world.   This keeps prices, particularly for recognized and higher end labels, and making them a good investment.

Until then, enjoy these shots of Chateaux In Bordeaux.

A Most Excellent Day Touring Bordeaux Wineries

Although we could have driven from one Bordeaux winery to another, we did a tour.  We did this for several reasons.

  • I firmly believe that if you are going to drink, for goodness sake don’t drive.  I didn’t mind driving across France, but would have hated driving around Bordeaux if it meant missing out on this once in a lifetime experience.
  • Bordeaux is massive with thousands of wineries.  It’s hard to know which ones to visit.  We were pleased with both the quality and variety of wineries chosen by our guide in the know.
  • We planned this road trip days in advance.  With such short notice, it would have been difficult to make all the arrangements ourselves.

Jurgen, our guide/ designated driver chose three vastly different wineries for us to visit in Bordeaux.   First, we visited Chateau Laniote in St. Emilion.  It is a family run winery run by a delightful couple.  She’s a oneologist (a wine scientist) and he’s the resident magician and jack of all trades.  Their wine was tasty and a good value.  I’m always interested in how family businesses operate and wish we could have stayed longer to talk with them.   Unfortunately for us, they were busy racking the wine (siphoning it from one container to the next in order to leave the sediment behind).  Fortunately for us, we had other lovely vineyards to visit.  After we left, our guide told us he was a Baron.   I don’t know that I’ve ever met a Baron or Baroness before.  I hope as nice and hard-working as these guys.

Our next visit was to Chateau Gruaud Larose (above).  We had a nice guide who explained some of the unique things about their winery.

  • It is located in the St Julian appellation, which is known for producing full-bodied and elegant wines.
  • They make both a first label (higher quality/more expensive) and second label (which uses grapes from younger vines and other cuvées).   The second label is Sarget du Château Gruaud-Larose.

  • They are state of the art and have embraced technology in their efforts to produce the best wine possible.  They have a weather station that is replete with a machine to break up hail, a hail gun…sort of.  It is in the distance, near the furthest building in the picture above.
  • They have a fancy-schmancy grape sorter.  It uses high-precision cameras to electronically select only perfect, ripe grapes.

We visited the highly praised Château Pontet-Canet.  While Château Gruaud-Larose embraced technology, Château Pontet-Canet returned to traditional methods in their efforts to produce a high quality wine.

  • Bordeaux is notorious for its adherence to rigid classifications laid out in the 1800’s.  Château Pontet-Canet is classified as a Cinquième Crus (fifth growth).  Our guide, Jurgen, echoed the main criticism of this rigidity when he explained to us that it meant that a fifth growth level could be better than a second-growth because of how they operate their vineyard.
  • Even though it is a lowly fifth growth, it is located in the Pauillac area of Bordeaux, across the road from first growth Château Mouton Rothschild Other illustrious neighbors include: Château Lafite and Château Mouton.  Some of the world’s most highly respected and expensive wines.  Even at several hundred dollars a bottle, people still argue that it is underrated and a terrific value.

  • Once-derided, this winery’s quality has steadily risen, particularly after its  conversion to biodynamics.  This 2007 vintage is controversial because it resorted to chemicals to treat oidium and mildew,  a decision they now regret.   That being said, I tasted it and it was pretty darn good.

  • They use horses in the vineyards. Horses compact the soils less, and do not damage the vine’s roots like tractors.

  • They sort grapes by hand, worried that an automated sorter would damage the grapes or crush them unnecessarily early.  After the manual sorting, their grapes drop directly into tanks in the floor below.

Related articles

Merci Beaucoup Freshly Pressed!

Thanks Freshly Pressed for selecting my post “What Is Claret? The Question That Sparked A Tasty Adventure In Bordeaux.”  I can’t believe this is the third time in (give or take) six months that you have chosen to feature one of my posts.  Thanks so much for the recognition and support.

In case you were wondering, the other “Freshly Pressed” posts are:

Frankly My Dear Sarlat…

I went with Hokie and Wildcat on a road trip to Bordeaux.  I’d always dreamed of going to the Dordogne region of France so we made a couple of stops there too.  We heard that Sarlat-la-Canéda (commonly referred to as Sarlat) is considered one of the five prettiest towns in France.  While we have, perhaps, overdosed on cute French towns (Saint-Rémy de Provence, EguisheimSt. Paul-de-Vence, Vence, Les Baux-de-ProvenceEze, Avignon, Kayersburg, Colmar, how could we not give this one a go?

It has a traffic-free old town with cobblestone lanes and renaissance buildings with elaborate stonework.  Sarlat lives in its streets.  Cafes abounded. With wonderful weather and backdrops why wouldn’t you want to sit outside?  Walking Sarlat’s streets we saw mimes “warming up,”  artists working “en plein air,” and countless street vendors.  This mime’s warmup looked surprisingly like the warmups we did in my belly dancing class.   I wish I’d gotten it on video for you.

Foodies will be happy to learn that Sarlat is located in the Perigord area of Dordogne, an area almost 50% of the French believe has the best food in France.  Sarlat is known for its foie gras, while not my thing, they clearly do a big business it.  There are shops everywhere, a statute of geese next to the church and souvenir shops that sell goose themed paraphernalia.  Foie Gras (goose liver pate) is controversial.  We saw a flock of geese while in Dordogne on a farm.   In this area it is an age-old tradition called la garage.  The only thing we ate there was gelato.

Sarlat has such nice buildings because it was loyal.  Huh?   What does loyalty have to do with pretty stone buildings?

During the Hundred Years’ War, Sarlat remained loyal to the French.  The French king rewarded its loyalty with money to rebuild the damaged town in luxurious stone.  Beautiful, long-lasting and fire-resistant…  Oh la la.  

We enjoyed strolling its streets and people watching.  It might be a bit touristy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a really interesting place to spend an afternoon.   I’m sure it’s even more beautiful in the evening when tourists like me have left for the day.

Nice, France Is Better Than Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo

I have a huge fascination with breakdancing (also known as b-boying or breaking).  Each time we see people dancing somewhere, I can’t help but stop and watch.  I love the sheer athleticism of it.  It evolved from almost every dance, acrobatic and martial arts style including: tap, jazz, capoeira, Balkan, ballroom, folk, shaolin kung-fu, circus and swing.

Breakdancing is popular in France.  When we were in Nice, we strolled the Pedestrain Zone of the Place Masséna.  It’s essentially the main square of Nice and center of all the action.  We encountered some break dancers (videos are all over YouTube) on checkerboard pavement and stopped to check them out.

Each time I watch break dancers, I am struck by the communal spirit that surrounds them.  It makes you want to learn how to do it.  Forget ballroom dancing, we’ll be taking this dance class instead.  It looks like a pretty good workout.

Being a former gymnast, I loved the power moves because they are particularly acrobatic.  It requires momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control (like the flare, windmillswipe, and head spin).

Downrock (also known as footwork or floorwork) describes any movement on the floor where the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet.  Common downrock moves include: the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step.  Basic downrock is done entirely on hands and feet.  It didn’t take long for their moves to get way more complex and too fast  for the settings on my camera.

Freezes are stylish poses, and the more difficult require the breaker to suspend  himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses.  How can you not love these creative displays of agility and physical strength set to music?

Well done gentlemen.

How Exactly Did You Plan On Ensuring Staff Wear Appropriate Underwear?

ubs

ubs (Photo credit: twicepix)

When we were preparing for our move, we tried to learn as much as we could about Switzerland.  We heard that they are pretty conservative and rule based.  We’d also heard that the way of doing business and the work environment would probably be different than we were used to in the US.  Nevertheless, we were surprised to hear UBS, a large Swiss bank, issued a banking giant UBS a 44-page dress code (a couple of years ago).  At 44 pages, it is (not surprisingly) quite detailed.  Staff was expected to:

  • Wear suits in dark grey, black or navy blue
  • Keep their jacket buttons closed.  When seated, they must always be open.  While on the subject of jackets, they were also required to completely cover employee’s rear (not a good look for a shorty like me).
  • Black knee-high socks were preferred.
  • Female staff’s skirts should reach the middle of the knee…
  • Underwear was supposed to be of good quality, easily washable and undetectable.  How exactly did they plan on ensuring this?
  • Trendy spectacles were forbidden.  While at it, the color of the metal on your glasses should match the color of your jewelry.
  • Men were not to wear bracelets or earrings, since this is Switzerland wearing wristwatches was encouraged… as long as it didn’t threaten safety.
  • Women were not to wear black nail polish or nail art… it has only become more popular since the probation was issued.
  • Men were not to have stubble or excessive facial hair
  • Men were from covering their grey with hair color

It also had other advice on a variety of subjects including”

  • Don’t eat garlic or onions to avoid bad breath
  • How to wear your scarf
  • When to apply perfume
  • The importance of well-trimmed and filed toenails.
  • Skin-colored underwear is recommended
  • Do not put much of anything in your jacket pockets to avoid deforming them
  • My favorite  advises employees to neother wash, nor iron their shirts themselves.

UBS may sound familiar because it has been in the news when it was bailed out in 2008 (after losing around 21 billion Swiss Francs) and for its long running battle with US tax authorities.  Perhaps the tomeic dress code was an attempt to improve its image.  It has since been somewhat revised.  Although when I go into a UBS, I don’t see much color…